These articles caught my eye this month.
The Author (Journal of The Society Of Authors —autumn 2014 edition). It might come as news to you that when authors give talks, readings and interviews at our thriving literary festival circuit they are unpaid. I say unpaid, at Hay and Dartington (Ways With Words) you might be offered a packet of shortbread or half a dozen bottles of ‘very bad wine’ Caroline Blake Agent said: ‘Hay enrages me – they offer half a dozen bottles of very bad wine, and most writers can’t carry them unless they go by car’ She added, ‘I think they circulate the same half–dozen bottles around.’ Another Society of Author member states in the article. ‘I do get cross when you take in, say, 500 people paying £8.00 each and are paid not a penny out of £4000…no rock group or comedian would dream of accepting such a deal.’
It does seem extraordinary that this regime of authors being unpaid for what is essentially a performance with a large ticket price, has traditionally been unpaid. It appears this regime has grown out of notion that festivals are publicity opportunities were the author might sell books or gain sales from the publicity, but that makes no sense either, a comedian for example, would collect a fee or share of the ticket sales and sales from the resulting DVD and merchandise. Fortunately this is now changing and the article goes on to sight the Musician’s Union campaign ‘Work Not Play’ because they are in fact suffering from the same pecuniary issues. A literary festival is live entertainment and as such the performers should be remunerated either by fee or by share. It appears that Chipping Norton is leading the way with mutual profit sharing. So perhaps an equitable way of paying authors for their contributions will be found.
This whole notion of not paying writers has grown over the years and the Internet is strongly implicated in this push for free content. Recently a friend, who was being helpful, forwarded an email to me from a woman who was ‘offering’ editing work. She had a great deal to edit and her offer was to pay £50 for the task, clearly having no idea that there might actually be an accepted hourly rate for this job and having no idea of the existence of the Society of Editors and Proof Readers or The Society of Indexers, where she could find a professional to do the job and discover what the correct fee range would be. Would she, I wondered, post this offer of work out to plumbers? ‘I have a bathroom I want plumbed in and can offer you 50 quid.’ Probably not.
If creatives cannot live, albeit modestly, then they will be forced to stop creating this article by Robert McCrum http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/02/bestseller-novel-to-bust-author-life shows the chilling fiscal reality for authors in the current environment.
The section below is taken from the Society of Authors blog (July 2014) written by chief executive Nicola Soloman, it shows the depressing income decline for authors in recent years.
'In 2013 ALCS commissioned Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute part of University of London), to conduct some independent research into authors' earnings in the UK today. Here is what they found:
- Only 11.5% of authors earn their living solely from writing. In 2005, this figure was 40%.
- Authors' incomes are falling in real terms: the typical annual income of professional authors has fallen to £11,000, a figure far below the level identified by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, as necessary to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living (£16,850).
- This decline is set against the increasing wealth generated by the creative industries, which now equates to a staggering £8 million per hour.
- The picture is worse when you look at those for whom writing isn't their main profession. In 2000, the typical annual income of 'all writers' was £8,810 in real terms, in 2013 this figure had fallen to £4,000.'
There is an amusing piece by the author Kate Long in the current edition of Mslexia, under the heading ‘when it all went horribly wrong.’ Kate, who in 2005 had a best-seller in the Sunday Times list and also serialised on Radio 4, was at that time new to the literary world. She was invited to a book group who had read her novel, this involved a 200 mile round trip, costing her £100 and no expenses were paid. Gathered together were twenty 'elderly ladies,' who then proceeded to forcefully trash her book, no one had enjoyed the novel and Kate sat there mortified as they explained why they disliked it so much. She states that she learned that she could get through this dreadful experience politely, that despite all the criticism thrown at her, she could carry on writing (now the author of seven novels). And she realised that no event would ever be so bad again. From her re–telling it sounds as if they spoke as if she wasn't even in the room; it is extraordinary how rude people can be to writers.
I hope that in the future the public will understand that writers, artists, musicians et al have bills to pay and live by their talent. Also that there is a rate for the job and that you can always ask for an estimate or quote. Most creative people I know under–charge and will frequently work unremunerated should the work be interesting enough and lead on to something more, frequently it doesn't, and this plays in to the hands of the ‘free’ content type of individual or organisation. A strange phenomenon I have encountered is the notion that the rate of pay at a local authority adult institute is the proper remuneration package for an author giving a talk or workshop, more than once I have had to mention the Society of Authors in order to clear up this misunderstanding. This sort of thing doesn't happen to mathematicians or scientists, no one seems to suggest that the marginalised and socially excluded in deprived communities would benefit from the input of unpaid physicist. If you are an artistic creator these offers of engagement for no remuneration are frequent.
I have learned my lesson. I once sat in nine hours of project meetings and realised that everyone in that room was being paid for their time apart from me. The project never came off and my preparation work was also unpaid. Only last year I went on a hundred mile round trip for a two and half hour meeting where I had prepared and made a presentation, for another project that never materialised. I now offer a one hour meeting gratis, ask (although don’t often receive) travel expenses and if I am asked to prepare a presentation I request the fee structure, usually there isn't one, the assumption is that I won't need paying. As creators we must ask what the budget is and present a professional no–nonsense fee structure for commissioners to respond to, hopefully this will set the tone.
My Word of Mouth book this month is for anyone who is interested in writing: Stephen King 'On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft'